The Best Excel Formulas for Forecasting and Budgeting Workbooks
We were recently asked, “What are the best Excel functions for forecasting and budgeting files?” Given the number of budget projects we have worked on over the past 30 years, the answer was easy — it really only comes down to two types of formulas: advanced Lookup functions and advanced Sum functions. That simple handful of advanced Excel functions can do most of the heavy lifting in Excel budget and forecast workbooks. The two most advanced on the top of that list would be the XLookup function and the SumIfs function, followed by their close cousin variations (VLookup, HLookup, and SumIf). These 5 functions do the trick.
You can build a high-performance Excel budget workbook using a handful of Excel Lookup and SumIf functions simply and efficiently. With the use of properly built data tables, some data visualization tools, and user-friendly techniques, you can confidently rely on both of these advanced Excel functions or their close cousins to make short order of any big dataset. Perfect functions for programming, budgeting, and forecasting workbooks as well as the associated analysis and reporting.
If your budget or forecast workbooks need to perform efficiently, then you should consider using the XLookup and the SumIfs Excel functions as they are simple to understand, easy to use, and help you quickly — and efficiently — get the job done.
Add Data Visualization & Other Helpful Excel Programming Techniques to Simplify Budget Creation, Analysis, and Reporting
Many of the 475+ Excel formulas are older, and many should not be used
Building high-performance budget and forecast models in Microsoft Excel can be an intimidating task for Excel programmers, as these are some of the most detailed workbooks used in accounting and finance departments across the globe. Much of that complexity is simply due to the amount of detail in the data, the significantly large number of records in each dataset, and, of course, the need for achieving 100% accuracy when the final budget numbers are ultimately rolled-up and presented to senior management.
Knowing which Excel formulas most efficiently allow you to extract the data from your data tables is the challenge, as there are over 475+ Excel functions available. When you use the wrong formulas in an Excel budget or forecast, you will slow down your file. Additionally, you may introduce calculation errors and could be missing some of the data points (incomplete data). The good news is that there are only a handful of advanced Excel functions that you need to know to make the file perform optimally.
If you have experience creating budgets for large organizations in Excel, then you know one of the biggest challenges in developing the budget and forecast workbooks is centered around file performance (How long does it take to open, update, change formulas, import new data, export data, process the records, run the analysis, and even to close?). The formulas you use — and how you use them both alone and in combination with other formulas — will have a significant impact on the performance of your Excel spreadsheet. Thus, if you use the best formulas for the task, say to use the SumIfs formula to sum records based on multiple criteria, you can optimize file performance and add ease of use.
Over the past several decades, we have learned that there are only a handful of advanced Excel functions you need to know in order to build a budget file with performance built-in. Two of those will do most of the work — the XLookup and the SumIfs functions. In our eyes, these simply are the two best Excel functions for budgeting workbooks based on decades of budget development and programming experience. We will cover both of those and their close cousins in this post. That handful of advanced functions will get the job done optimally.
Primary Challenge (Workbook Performance, Ease of Use, Accuracy): In financial workbooks, we are often dealing with massive datasets that have a significant amount of data points to process. Large datasets can definitely have an impact on workbook performance and efficiency. When it comes to budgeting and forecasting models in Microsoft Excel, you are often forced to address the challenges of working with what the programmers like to call “Big Data“.
Big data can really slow things down, and the bigger it gets, the slower everything gets. Use the wrong data table structure or formulas, and you will create performance and accuracy issues in your Excel files. But it need not be so complicated or frightening; anyone at the intermediate level can easily develop budgets and forecasts in Microsoft Excel. That ismif they know which Excel formulas out of the 475+ functions available work best with large data sets; ones where you can use criteria directly in your formulas, such as the SumIfs function.
Here, we will cover the two best Excel functions for budgeting and forecasting workbooks, the XLookup and the SumIfs functions, along with their close cousins (SumIf, VLookup, HLookup), with the focus on performance and ease of use. We will also cover several functions that we use with the handful of Sum and Lookup functions in Excel, such as If, CountIfs, IfError, Concatenate, Month, and Offset, for example.
Add advanced Data Visualization Tools & user-friendly development techniques to take your budget file to the next level:
When building a forecast or budget in Excel, it is important to take the time to properly apply data visualization techniques and tools to the budget workbook. This allows you to quickly make sense of what the underlying data is trying to tell you, to quickly see the trends, the results, the KPI’s, etc., under various what-if scenarios. Using an “Inputs Sheet,” for example, with Validation Controls will allow you quickly to run several what-if scenarios in the budget and forecast file. Change your selection of the Validation Controls, and the results in the budget and forecast reports will instantly change. Also great for Ad-Hoc tabs in the budget and forecast files. Allow the Senior Team to quickly make sense of the data interactively.
Successfully developing simple to use and yet powerful budgets and forecasts in Excel does require using advanced data visualization techniques, which often means the ability to choose the best Excel tools to get the job done. If you want to make your workbook as efficient, accurate, and as easy to use as possible, learn to apply advanced data visualization techniques and tools in your Excel workbooks.
Excel data visualization tools and ease of use tools & techniques for budgets and forecasts include:
Dashboards, UserForms, Interactive Charts & Graphs, Filters, Slicers, Pivot Tables, Pivot Charts, Conditional Formatting, Inputs Sheets, Dynamic Named Ranges, Dynamic Validation Controls, and Macros. These should always be considered when building budgets or forecasts in Microsoft Excel.
They improve ease of use and enhance data visualization. Both are appreciated by the users and the senior management team. Just because it is a budget does not mean it needs to be a pain to use and difficult to understand.
Why mention data visualization techniques here? Well, if you are going to take the time to learn to apply the right formulas in your budget file, you might was well use advanced data visualization techniques as you do the development instead of doing it after the fact.
These tools and techniques bring both ease of use and allow one to quickly make sense of the data that these advanced formulas return. Named Ranges, for example, should be used in most of your advanced formulas for ease of use and understanding, Pivot Tables should be part of the “Analysis & Reporting Package” along with interactive charts and graphs. Maybe even throw in a Power BI Dashboard.
The point is, if you build the file with both power and ease of use built-in from the beginning, you will have a file that is easy to use and provides advanced visualization with interactive charts, graphs, Pivot Tables, and analysis.
Make the Budget Workbook Easy and a Joy to Use: Dynamic Validation Controls, Dynamic Named Ranges, Timeline, Slicers, Pivot Tables, Pivot Charts, Interactive Charts & Graphs, Dashboards, UserForms, Macros, Input/Variable Sheets, and Conditional Formatting are very important tools and techniques to use in every Excel workbook.
When it comes to developing a new budget or forecast in Microsoft Excel, do not worry! If you know what functions to use and Excel visualization tools to to leverage, you can tame Big Data, thus running your high-performance application with speed and ease.
In this post, we will show you which Excel functions to use and why you would want to use them, as well as several you will not want to use. As an added bonus, we will cover a few of our favorite data visualization techniques and tools. If you are going to take the time to do the programming for optimal results, you might as well use the best tools and techniques to allow you to make the most sense of the data with an advanced reporting and analysis package full of high-quality, interactive visuals such as Pivot Tables, Dashboards, Slicers, Tables, Charts, Graphs, and Conditional Formatting.
Important Note Regarding Workbook Design (Workbook Layout & Table Design Impact Performance & Ease of Use):
What ultimately makes it possible to use just a handful of advanced Excel formulas actually is the initial design and layout of your Excel based data tables. If you design the data tables the right way, you can use just two advanced formulas (XLookup, SumIfs) to extract your data quickly and most efficiently, both formulas possibly pulling data from the same data table.
If you design the tables the wrong way, you will find it more difficult to extract the data you need. You may find yourself overly embedding several formulas into one function, when just using the right table design would have allowed you to use just one function, such as the XLookup.
Table design combined with formula selection is critical for optimal performance and ease of use.
Important Note Regarding Supporting Formulas (Embedded Formulas):
To fully leverage the power of the handful of advanced Lookup and Sum functions in Excel, you will often find yourself using “supporting formulas,” such as the If statement, Concatenate, Month, Year, Network Days, Left, Right, Sum, Count, Offset, etc., to allow you to get the most out of the two recommended Excel functions for certain data needs based on how the table was setup.
Is the table design driving the formula choice, or is the formula choice driving the table design? One simplifies the use of formulas while driving performance. The other requires you to constantly embed formulas to get around poor workbook design.
That said, there are great uses for embedded formulas and functions in Excel. Primarily, embedded formulas and functions allow flexibility in how you get things done. Secondly, they allow you to leverage the power of other Excel functions, in the current function, such as using two embedded functions when creating a Dynamic Named Range inside a Validation Control. (See image below).
Example: Using two functions to create Dynamic Named Range inside a Validation Control: =OFFSET(Lists!$E$9,0,0,COUNTA(Lists!$E:$E)-1,1).
One function or two to get to the same end results.
=XLOOKUP(AB7,TransactionID,Amount,”-“,FALSE) — Use one function.
=IFERROR(VLOOKUP(AL9,$J$7:$L$35,3,FALSE),”-“) — Use two functions to get the same results.
So why focus on the use the XLookup and SumIfs functions and their close cousins in your budgeting and forecasting files?
There are over 475 formulas and functions in Microsoft Excel. The majority of those are rarely, if ever, used; most of those functions you do not need to know. Making it more of a challenge is the simple fact that there are numerous Excel functions that will ultimately provide the same end results (such as sum only certain records in a table or lookup a single value in a table), but they go about it in different ways and have different levels of efficiency and ease of use. Some require embedded formulas. You may need to add what the Excel experts like to refer to as “helper columns.” As such, formula selection is critical when it comes to workbook performance and ease of use.
Important Note Regarding Updating Formulas: There is literally no need to make manual changes to your formulas from month to month, year-to-year, or budget-to-budget. The formulas, data tables, and named ranges should account for these changes in data over time by design.
The only thing you should do in the update process is add new data to the Excel budget and forecast template, and then run the Macro that updates the files and reports.
Need to Sum Records Based on Multiple Criteria? Sum, DSum, SumIf, SumIfs – Which do you use in your budget workbook?
The formulas above are written in a way that you instantly know what they are doing. They are summing records based on single or combined criteria of Year and/or Department. The Dynamic Named Ranges do make a difference in terms of understanding and in ease of use.
An example of Microsoft Excel functions that provide the same end results would be the various lookup functions:
Lookup, Index/Match, XLookup, VLookup, and HLookup can all be used to return a single value from an Excel table, but which one will work best for your workbook? The Microsoft XLookup is the latest and greatest. The XLookup would be the first choice of the various Lookup functions.
If you cannot do it with the XLookup, then consider which close cousin lookup functions (VLookup, HLookup, Index/Match, Match) might work better. In Excel, there are many ways to skin a cat; some will leave you with scratches, some will purr up against your leg.
Many of the Excel formulas are older and should not be used. DSUM is a good example. Instead of using the DSUM function, use the SumIf function (Single Criteria) or better yet, use the SumIfs function (Multiple Criteria – Our favorite Sum function).
In order to be successful programming budgets and forecasts in Microsoft Excel, you need to know less than 10 of the advanced formulas, such as XLookups, VLookups, HLookups, SumIf, SumIfs, CountIf, and CountIfs. There’s no need to use Index/Match in a properly designed workbook.
Xlookup & SumIfs are the Excel power functions when it comes to budgets and forecasts; design your workbooks and your tables to work with those two functions in mind.
Add the embedded use of supportive formulas such as If Statements, Concatenate, Month, Year, Sum, Count, Offset, Left, Find, etc., along with advanced data visualization tools such as Pivot Tables, Slicers, Dashboards, Macros, UserForms, Validation Controls, Named Ranges, Inputs Sheets, and Conditional Formatting, and you are pretty much set. Your budget workbooks should be easy to develop, use, and understand. Most of all, they will perform optimally.
Let’s Look at Our Favorite Dynamic ‘Lookup‘, ‘Sum‘ & ‘Count‘ Excel Budgeting Functions
So, like we said, for budgeting and forecasting purposes, we have two favorite functions: the XLookup and the SumIfs functions, quickly followed by VLookup, HLookup, SumIf, CountIf, and CountIfs functions. We find that this handful of advanced functions will do most of the heavy lifting in our all of financial workbooks, not just the ones specific to budgets or forecasts.
Add some supportive (Embedded) functions like If Statements, Month, Year, Concatenate, IfError, and Offset, and you can get a lot done in short efficient order.
Sums, Counts & Lookups are the Excel functions you want to use most. There are a handful of advanced ones shown below. For optimal performance, you will want to use the functions that will allow criteria in the formula, such as the SumIfs function, which allows for multiple criteria and isone of our top two functions in Excel for budgeting. The use of multiple criteria in the SumIfs formula is the main reason for its power and performance.
We try to just use the XLookup & the SumIfs/CountIfs as much as possible (in bold below) and the others only when necessary.
When you have control over table layout and worksheet design, these are the top two Excel functions to use (XLookup, SumIfs).
We do not recommend you use the formulas and functions below for Sum, Count, or Lookup purposes against large datasets based on proper table design. Instead, use the advanced and dynamic formulas mentioned above for optimal use and performance:
Our example uses these three advanced Excel functions (SumIfs, XLookup, CountIfs) to optimize performance and ease of use
The simple example tables below are built to show you how you can use two primary formulas and their close cousins to extract the data you need for your budget or forecasting Excel spreadsheets. One of the formulas (Xlookup, VLookup, HLookup) returns a single record, one formula sums one or more records (SumIf, SumIfs), and the other counts one or more records (CountIf, CountIfs).
All three formulas are used on the same data table. Those are the only advanced Excel functions you need to build your forecast workbook. The remaining formulas (If, Sum, Concatenate, Offset, IfError, Month, Year, left, etc.) are there to support these three or do simpler things.
The use of criteria in the formulas is what makes them so powerful and easy to use.
- In the example table below, the criteria is as follows: “Month,” “Year,” “Department,” “Location,” “Account,” and “Transaction ID”. To return the “Amount,” either summed, counted, or simply retrieved (all are based on Dynamic Named Ranges).
- It is the use of the criteria that makes these advanced formulas so powerful. Allowing multiple criteria really changed the game; such power with such ease of use.
- Both functions are able to use the criteria on the data set.
- The SumIfs function would be able to use a combination of the criteria available, but most likely would not look at the “Transaction ID” column of the example, as that should be one record per ID and thus no need to sum (rather use an XLookup instead to return the matching value for the corresponding “Transaction ID”).
- The XLookup is only looking at the “Transaction ID” range, and returning the value found in the “Amount” range, for an exact match of the first record found (Should be only one record with an exact match in most situations, but there are exceptions).
- The XLookup can look in either ‘direction’, unlike the VLookup, and return the appropriate result, as the VLookup only looks to the right, hence the use of Index/Match.
- Example: Instantly see what the “Accounting Department” in the “New York” office paid for “Marketing” expenses in “2019”, or even just for the first quarter of 2019 — all with one simple to use SumIfs function. Now that is power!
The image above is of a very simple data table; it is designed to show you just how well the XLookup, SumIfs, and CountIfs functions work and how easy they are to use on a properly designed table. These are dynamic formulas; they will account for changes in the size of the dataset. No user intervention needed.
In order to use both of these formulas on the same data table, you want to build your table a certain way, where it is comprised of detail records, down to the “Transaction ID” level, in this example. The XLookup will return the “Amount” for the single record, if any, that matches the “Transaction ID” value. The SumIfs will return a sum of the detail of the “Amounts” range for all records that match the complex-criteria set.
You want the table to be built so that these formulas will work; the choice of formulas determines the design and layout of the worksheet, not the other way around. Build it right for performance from the get-go.
The Advanced Excel Lookup and Excel Sum Functions Explained
The Advanced Sum Functions (SumIf, SumIfs)
In the image below, you can see how the SumIf and SumIfs formulas work.
- The SumIf formula returns the sum of records based on a single criteria (‘Year’).
- The SumIfs function allows you to sum records based on multiple criteria (‘Year’ and ‘Department’).
- Both of the formulas returning the summed “Amount“, and both are using Dynamic Named Ranges for ease of use and understanding.
- Which of the two you use depends on the number of criteria. The first function is for a single criteria, the latter is for 2 or more criteria. I tend to use the SumIfs in most cases.
Formula Used (Single Criteria Field): =SUMIF(Year,Q7,Amount)
Formula Used (Multiple Criteria Fields): =SUMIFS(Amount,Year,V3,Department,W3)
The Excel SumIf Function (Sums Records Based on Single Criteria)
Here, the SumIf function sums records in the “Amount” column based on the value in the “Year” column. Any record with the matching year will be summed.
Formula Used: =SUMIF(Year,Q7,Amount)
Looking at the images below, you can see how the formula works; it is not complicated. Here, we are using the “Auditing Toolbar” feature to analyze Excel formulas. As you can see, the SumIf function is pretty easy to understand and just as easy to apply.
Excel SumIfs Function (Sums Records Based on Multiple Criteria, up to 127 different criteria in one formula)
Here, the SumIfs function sums matching records based on the combination of “Year” & “Department,” returning their summed values in the “Amount” range. You can further add criteria to get down to more levels of detail. They are very simple to add.
Once again, you will see that using named ranges make it easier to understand what the formula is doing, where it is pulling from, making it super easy to go to that data.
Formula Used: =SUMIFS(Amount,Year,V3,Department,W3)
The ability to sum on multiple criteria is very useful and powerful; up to 127 different criteria is insanely powerful.
In our example below, our SumIfs formulas in the range V7:X13 looks very similar to a small Pivot Table, does it not?
Excel XLookup Function (Returns a single value from a table based on a single criteria with built-in error trapping)
Why use this Excel function? Because it is the latest and greatest lookup function by Microsoft, and it largely eliminates the need to use the others. It has power built-in.
The Microsoft Excel XLookup is one of the newest formulas added to Excel in recent years. It virtually replaces the VLookup, previously the most-used advanced Excel function, and eliminates the need to use Index/Match to look left. The XLookup will search a range of data for a matching value. It will then to return a value from another column in the searched table. It will return the first matching value if there happens to be duplicates.
If you have duplicate values in the column to match, such as two records with the same transaction ID, consider using Concatenate to expand the criteria used. You can then add the criteria of Location or Department or use both, more like a SumIfs with multiple criteria, but you are using Concatenate to do it in the XLookup along with the use of a hidden “helper column” in the table being searched (Or better yet, make sure your table does not have duplicates before you use it).
As an added benefit, the XLookup has built-in error trapping (if_not_found), so there’s no need to use the additional formula IfError() to get rid of the dreaded “#N/A” error.
Formula Used: =XLOOKUP(AB7,TransactionID,Amount,”-“,FALSE)
Using the new XLookup makes looking up records even easier as this function will look left and right, not just to the right as the VLookup does. The XLookup makes working in Excel easier. There’s no need to add the IfError() function or to use Index/Match as a workaround.
CountIf and CountIfs Functions
If you are using the SumIf or the SumIfs functions in an Excel budget or forecast, chances are you are also going to be using the CountIf and CountIfs formulas as well; as you often need one when you have the other for statistical purposes.
Excel CountIfs Function – (Counts based on multiple criteria, much like the SumIfs function does)
Pretty straightforward — it counts the number of records that match the criteria. Very useful. Great for a KPI Report and Analysis. If you have a single criteria, then you can use the CountIf function; it works the same one.
Formula Used: =COUNTIFS(Year,AH7,Department,AI7)
Data Visualization Techniques/Tools in Microsoft Excel
Want to take your file to the next level? These advanced Excel features, techniques, and tools will take you there:
- Data Validation Controls ( Instead of manual data entry )
- Dynamic Named Ranges ( A MUST have in order to simplify your file )
- Conditional Formatting ( Save your eyes; spot your errors )
- Filters ( Great for Ad-Hoc Analysis )
- Pivot Tables, Pivot Charts (Presentations, Analysis)
- Slicers, Timeline
- Interactive Charts and Graphs
- UserForms Input Sheet
- Command Buttons, Combo Boxes, List Boxes, etc.
Formulas we often use with XLookup & SumIfs:
- VLookup, HLookup, SumIf, CountIf, CountIfs
- If Statements ( To be used with the other supporting formulas )
- Concatenate ( Allows you to really define what you are looking for )
- Left, Right, etc.
- Month, Year, etc.
- Network Days
- Left, Mid, Right
So, you have been tasked with developing a new budget and forecast template in Microsoft Excel for the organization you work for. You are an intermediate level programmer and are pretty good with formulas, but you are not sure which advanced Excel functions might work best for optimal performance. The formulas you choose will have an impact on performance.
If you get to do the design and layout of the budget workbook, that will really help you to make sure your file is an ease to use and have power built-in. Use advanced data visualization tools and techniques, make the file ultra user friendly and super easy to use, leverage a powerful of an advanced UserForms-based GUI, allow the Pivot Tables, Pivot Charts, Interactive Graphs, and Power BI Dashboards to tell the tale, and the senior management team will be impressed with your work.
The Microsoft XLookup and the SumIfs function are our top two advanced Excel functions when it comes to budgeting and forecasting files.
Need help with your financial Excel workbooks, from budgets and forecasts to reporting and analysis? Our Microsoft Excel experts are here to help; we are the budget experts! Call for a free consultation today.